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SALT LAKE CITY — If you’ve ever been stuck on the road with a flat tire you know the frustration that comes with it. Whether you were handy enough to slap on a spare tire yourself, or had to call a tow truck, you took action because if you hadn’t, your car would still be sitting there.
Likewise, when our bodies are sick, hurt, or broken, we allow doctors to poke, stitch, bandage, X-ray, medicate and anything else that will restore us to health so we can get on with living. We charge phones, iron clothes, plunge toilets, water lawns and when our grown out highlights leave us looking like a striped-legged okapi, you can bet we head to the salon.
Yet, this diligence with repair and upkeep doesn’t always transfer when it comes to our emotional well-being. Too often, we live with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and other negatives that hold us back instead of doing all we can to fix them. For chemical imbalances and other clinical diagnoses, we may need professional help. But there are many ways to boost our general psychological health, so why not repair our emotional flat tires with the same vigilance and urgency we’d devote to a stranded car?
Here are five “patches” that can help get our souls back on the road to a quality, satisfying existence:
1. Reframe disappointing events. We can’t live a life without setbacks, difficulties, and loss, but we can change the way we look at them. Those who find meaning in life’s challenges, for example, are better able to cope with their adversities.
In a powerful TED talk on the science of happiness, Dan Gilbert referenced a study that tracked new lottery winners and recent paraplegics, only to find no difference in their level of happiness after one year's time. This challenges our preconceived notions of what makes us happy, and reassures us that our joy can survive even the hardest trials as we allow our “psychological immune system” to compensate.
2. Find someone else’s balloon. There’s a great object lesson on the Internet that describes a seminar of people who were given the task of finding the one balloon with their name on it in a room filled with everyone’s balloons. Chaos ensued and nobody was successful until the speaker changed the assignment. When they were told to instead pick up any balloon and return it to its owner, the room cleared out quickly and everyone ended up with the right balloon. This demonstrates the concept that you find happiness not while chasing after your own, but by helping others achieve it.
3. Understand what you’re up against. In sports and other competitive events, the better you know your competition, the more accurately you can predict his or her M.O., and plan accordingly to defeat his or her moves, plays and strategies. Your only true competitor in the game of life is you, but the concept still applies. The more realistic you are about your strengths and your limitations, the more effectively you can battle against yourself. Make it your goal to surpass your own expectations, remembering that comparison to anyone else will only be self-defeating. Someone will always be better than you, but you can always be better than you were yesterday, and recognizing this will work wonders for your self-esteem.
4. Give and be grateful. Gratitude has been shown to be far more than a polite approach to life. It is a principle of power that entreats the universe to work in your favor. Some psychologists believe gratitude to be “one of the keenest predictors of high subjective well-being.”
Similarly, the importance of giving cannot be overstated. In this study, participants reported greater joy in buying gifts for others than for themselves, confirming the ol' Bible adage that giving is better than receiving. It's not a new concept, but it's imperative to remember, and even more important to act on.
5. Let it go. Idina Menzel’s power ballad from the Disney movie "Frozen" has taken the Internet by ice storm. Because the phrase can mean almost anything, it resonates with each of us in different ways. As soon as we let go of whatever we need to let go of, we’ll be freed up for greater joy and peace of mind.
This can mean kicking unrealistic expectations and/or perfectionism to the curb (goodbye, Pinterest party); ditching bad habits, vices, or addictions; forgiving someone — including ourselves; letting go of failure or heartache; and overcoming grudges, prejudices and anything else that keeps our happiness tethered to the (icy) ground.
Ups and downs are a natural part of life, but staying down for too long can be just as debilitating in our life journey as a flat tire is on a road trip. Every effort put into repairing our insides can inflate our spirits and move us from stuck to unstoppable.
Amy Maughan is a graduate of Brigham Young University and an MFA student at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., with Superman and five offspring. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @heymaughan